The Math Forum used to host an Internet Math Hunt. Long before Google, Bing, Ask Jeeves, and even AltaVista showed up on the scene, finding things on the Internet was actually challenging. In our very first hunt in September 1995, we asked these five questions:
- In what town is the Geometry Center located, and what is it?
- Annie Fetter, the person who runs several of the student projects at the Math Forum, has pictures of her cats on her home page. What are their names?
- Name four members of the Swat Team, which staffs the Dr. Math project, who have home pages.
- What school runs the Great Penny Toss? (Extra: where is the school located?)
- There is a History of Mathematics site somewhere in the United Kingdom. What university hosts it, and where in the UK is it exactly?
The second question got a lot of attention, and even now it persists on Answers.com in two different places:
- Answers.com > Wiki Answers > Categories > Jobs & Education > Education > School Subjects > Math and Arithmetic (This one remains unanswered)
- Answers.com > Wiki Answers > Categories > Animal Life > Mammals > Land Mammals > Cats (Felines) > (This one is answered correctly)
Eukie and Ivan started coming to the office in 1994 when they were only a couple months old. We were then housed in the math department at Swarthmore College, and the cats had free range of our office, the hallway, and the Fishbowl, which was a seminar room across the hall with floor to ceiling windows on three sides (hence the name “Fishbowl”).
(FYI, Ivan is the one with the spot on his back.)
One day I went to retrieve Eukie from the Fishbowl before a psychology seminar, and the students looked at me imploringly and asked, “Can he stay? Please?” I looked at the professor and he shrugged, so I left Eukie there. For the next three hours, Eukie slowly circulated from one lap to another to someone’s notebook. At one point I glanced over (our office had windows out onto the hallway and right into the Fishbowl), and a student was making an impassioned argument, gesticulating with one hand while the other hand was petting the furry mass lying on her notebook.
Eukie and Ivan loved to sit on the trash can next to the water fountain outside one of the big lecture halls when class was about to let out, because they knew someone would turn the water on for them so that they could have a drink. (One morning the housekeeper reported that she had seen a student holding one of the cats’ paws against the button, trying to teach them how to turn it on themselves.) When the department secretary argued that this was unsanitary, the housekeeper explained that she just wiped it down with some disinfectant when they were done.
Eukie and Ivan have long been fixtures of our Math Tools library gallery, with Eukie chasing the isocahedron screensaver (shown above) and Ivan doing trig with his TI-92. Eukie’s enthusiasm for chasing screensavers at the office didn’t abate as he got bigger, though sometimes all that chasing is tiring.
Ivan often engaged in the age-old cat responsibility of confirming the continued existence of gravity by knocking things off shelves, such as this tissue box (but, fortunately, not the octahedral wooden puzzle), and both dutifully entertained visitors.
A few years later, we hired someone who was allergic to cats, so the cats retired to a life of leisure at home. They both continued assisting with important mathematical work, such as my technical editing of the first version of Exploring Calculus with the Geometer’s Sketchpad and helping with the Geometry Problem of the Week #GeoPoW.
They also spent time on the deck lounging and watching the squirrels, blue jays, starlings, raccoons, and other neighborhood cats eat the dried food that we ostensibly put out for the resident cats.
Naturally, all this work makes one tired, so they also did a lot of what cats do best, which is nap and look wicked cute at the same time.
We haven’t even mentioned the origins of their names. Eukie’s real name is Euclid, of course, while Ivan is actually Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky – a fitting pair of names for cats belonging to someone then working at “The Geometry Forum” if ever there were. While Eukie and Ivan aren’t the most famous cats on the Internet, they’re long-lived fixtures. We’ll miss them, but their mathematical contributions will live on.